Would You Rather? The Teen Version

After freaking out twice last week, it occurred to me that I was not having fun.

These were supposed to be the Basking Years.

Teenagers lull you into a false sense of family cooperation that comes from the fact that – follow me closely here – they aren’t actually home all day.

I waltz around the house on a Tuesday, admiring the tidiness and quietly cheerful atmosphere and feeling like my family is just the loveliest thing. I smile into their photographs on the wall. They sit perfectly still up there, not even thinking about spilling food on our new couch.

What cherubs.

At 6pm exactly, the front doors fly open and admit a hurricane that smells of basketball practice, stale Ritz cracker crumbs, greasy backpacks and spilled gatorade.

Gym bags, sweatshirts, shoes, papers, and cell phones are dropped the length of the house as my man-cubs attack the kitchen. There is no eye contact, only grunts and fierce grappling over the refrigerator handles.

My daughter has put boots on the landing, purse at the staircase, umbrella on the table as she navigates to the sink.

*plop*

In go the tupperware from lunch at work.

She’s tidy like that.

I’m really sorry to say it.

But the Teen Version of our game, Would You Rather? looks an awful lot like the Toddler Version.

Only on Axe. So.

Would You Rather….

Have food in the fridge for a week of actual dinners, but duct taped and clearly labeled “DO NOT EAT”…or…let it go and watch them live on frozen hot dogs, tortilla chips, and pancake mix?

Stay awake until midnight every weekend until you see your teen safely in from a date…or…startle awake at 3am, notice the front porch light still on, have a small coronary, rush to the child’s bed and WAKE THAT KID UP BECAUSE WHY SHOULD YOU HAVE ALL THE HEART ATTACKS AROUND HERE?

Be flattered that your teen is asking you a question, like, maybe you still know things, even if you have NO IDEA what the answer is, so you make it up like a boss…or…keep watching your episode of PSYCH, quietly hand the teen an iPad and mouth “Google it”?

Have a teen who has a better resume than you…or…have a teen who can navigate internet circles around you?

Have a teen who is content to ride the bus to pay for college…or…have a teen who gets a drivers license immediately but can’t even afford gas?

Have a house full of teens bouncing off walls and smearing pepperonis in the houseplants…or…have all the teens at someone else’s house where the adults have abandoned them to pepperoni autonomy?

Spend hours and dollars helping your teen fill out job applications, buy a nice shirt, practice interviews, and drive him to his new job so he can make minimum wage…or…hand him the difference in cash because, as his sisters keep pointing out, no one can support himself away from home for years to come.

Which would be my only motivation in the first place.

Have a teen who gloats about his manly smell of victory…or…runs the hot water heater dry in a single shower?

Have a teen who participates in sports and costs you a million dollars…or…a teen who participates in drama and costs you a million dollars?

Have a teen who wakes up at 6am every day no matter what but be grumpy…or…have a teen who sleeps until you pry him off the bed with a crowbar but then he’s one happy cookie?

Do the sniff test on a pile of random laundry you found in the hallway…or…do the sniff test on a pile of random restaurant doggy-bags you found in the back of the fridge?

Dive into an end-of-the-season gym bag…or…into an end-of-the-year backpack?

The question last week, of course, was, would I rather have a teen who goes mysteriously missing for five hours…or…one who gets in touch promptly in order to let you know about a motorcycle, a car, and a broken kneecap?

In other words, would you rather freak out…or…be reassured to NOT freak out?

Nobody Panic

I was a great parent before I had kids.

Who knew my firstborn was going to practice base jumping from our rooftop into our pool on a bike when he was ten?

Why would he eat a live grasshopper at 14 “just because”?

I didn’t know he was going to get older and try out ear expanders or self-tattoo or hitchhike to Oregon for a summer.

I just didn’t see it coming.

With the smallest peek under the stunts we knew about, there were a multitude of others we wished we didn’t know about, but in hindsight, explained a lot.

There was nothing in my Mommy Tool Kit for it, and putting the Foot down and throwing the Rule Book around and chasing him with a straight jacket was futile.

When your child is young, you have no way of knowing whether his latest stunt is a trend or a one-off. Is it something you can discipline out of him or has it been hard-wired into his brain at birth and you need to step back and watch it unfold? When do you push? When do you accept?

And where?

And why?

There was a period of about five years when I went into deep mourning over my beautiful, healthy, gifted, intelligent and talented children.

Go figure.

It had finally occurred to me that no matter what I did, they were going to be exactly who they were born to be. That the genetic and atomic lot had been cast at conception.

And that just because I did “X” and “Y” did not guarantee me a “Z”.

Principles and proverbs are not promises.

I suppose parents who have a diabetic or downs syndrome child go through this period early on. There’s a moment when it dawns on you that things are definitely not going to be what you were expecting.

And all of my kicking and screaming and denial and praying isn’t going to change it.

Thinking it was temporary is what delayed my acceptance of what is permanent, and made the pain in my heart worse than it needed to be.

I was not mourning my kids after all. I was mourning my own inadequacy.

I got one thing right: having five kids forced me to surrender words like “perfect” and “under control” and “of course I know what I’m doing”.

But it wasn’t pretty.

I could never mourn aloud, knowing that the blessings my children held far outweighed the additional things I wanted for them.

There’s no support group for “coming to your senses”.

How selfish of me, to wish my own concept of who he should be onto a person who already was.

Saying good-bye to the child I was expecting and greeting the child I have with open arms has been a long journey for me, and I’m very aware of how crazy that sounds.

He, on the other hand, has always known himself. When he wanders away from his family into a crowd, his terrified parents call him “lost”, but he himself never feels lost.

He feels okay, exactly where he is.

He is not shy, he’s thoughtful. She is not particular, she is discerning. He is not rebellious, he is trying to understand a world gone mad.

They are all deliberately going about this business of living, and teaching me to reframe my views of all of it.

I think that, if any of this perception is true, the only things actually left to me as a mother are the passing on of my concepts of knowledge and wisdom, to do with as they see fit, and as much overwhelming and, yes, frequently volcanic, love as I can aim at another human being without exploding with the volume of it.

My children know me.

I hope that as they know me better over the years, they will also accept and forgive my own “me”-ness, knowing I would never deliberately cause them pain, either, as I go about the very blundery business of living.

 

Brawn Before Brains

So.

My practically 25 year old son (I’m only counting because I read in National Geographic that my teenagers’ brains won’t fully develop until they are 25 and my held breath is getting thin) called last week and informed me that he “might be coming by” tomorrow.

This was call for celebration, as he moved thirty minutes away and now sighting him is as rare as seeing Bigfoot.

My response was a bit enthusiastic and I didn’t really ask him, you know, why he was coming over.

Enough to know the child cared.

I cleared my schedule, just in case.

When his car pulled up in front of the house the next day, I speed dialed Hubby.

“He’s here!” I told him, opening the front door, “Just now!”

Hubby immediately left work, calling an extended lunch break, and raced home to see the kid.

I hugged my tall, skinny firstborn and pulled him into the house, saying, “Come sit down and let me feed you!”

This is what moms do. Feed kids.

I put some leftover chili into a big bowl and said, “Wait. Why aren’t you at work today?”

I checked the giant wall calendar to see if I had missed a major holiday.

It’s happened.

“I’ve got the next two days off work,” replied the kid, reaching for a spoon, “I can’t use my hands right now.”

I did a double take.

His palms, forearms and elbows were ground up.

As in, there were holes where body bits should be.

I stood there speechless as Hubby walked in.

“Hey!” said Hubby, “Long time no see, kid! How’s it going?”

He paused as the kid held up his hands for inspection.

I lost my appetite.

“Well,” stammered Hubby, valiantly reaching for a bowl, “um, that looks painful. What happened?”

Our eldest rides a vintage 10-speed bicycle that he loves, whether he owns a car or takes the train. Last week, it was in the shop for a tune-up and new tires, and it had just come back, sparkling clean and itching for a ride.

He lives at the top of a hill.

The hill bottoms out onto a major roadway.

“Mom,” he used to say, “you know I love to ride fast…”

He admits that he was going much faster than his usual way-too-fast down the hill and that his rear tire must have hit a small pebble.

Our son has never worn a helmet, not even after he split open his head on a brick wall in high school.

“Mom,” he says, “you know I know how to roll when I fall. I never come close to hitting my head.”

His sounds of imminent destruction alerted a gardener doing yard work nearby. He ran over to my son, lying sprawled in the middle of the road, and tried to drag him out of harm’s way.

“Mom,” says my son, “you know a car has never come near me.”

His girlfriend drove over and carried him and his bike back up the hill and they put his pieces back together.

“Mom, you know that doctors can’t do anything.”

I fell into a seat half-way through his story and eyed his body up and down, wondering what mangled body bits under his clothes were being hidden.

“Mom, you know I heal fast. There’s nothing broken or anything. My shoulder hurts a little on the inside, but I think it’s fine,” he said, tackling the chili with gusto.

“The shoulder you broke when you were skim-boarding a few years ago?” asked Hubby, trying to choke down some lunch.

The kid reached for more cornbread, “Oh, I’m fine, I just can’t lift heavy stuff because of my hands.”

I passed him the butter.

“This probably isn’t the best time,” continued the kid, “but I’ve been shopping around for a while, and as long as I’m here I thought I’d ask you guys if you would mind co-signing with me on a motorcycle.”

Hubby gave him one long look.

“Well,” said the kid, “I had to ask.”

He pulled out his phone. “Here, let me show you the helmet and jacket I’ve picked out for riding.”

I stared out the window, one hand on the cool, smooth countertop.

There were my sturdy, giant oaks and distant hawks, circling overhead, and a leaf had fallen into the pool.

This is what moms do. They breathe.

Unless, of course, they are holding their breath, waiting for certain kids’ brain cells to mature.

As Hubby prepared to get back to work and the kid gathered himself up to leave, I hugged them both good-bye.

Hubby’s was a little fierce, but he’s a solid guy.

Then, cuddled in my arms for one brief second was a pudgy dimpled ten-month-old with a smile that could light up Christmas.

Hugging me back was a limber young man who turned his bright smile to me and said, “Love you, mom.”

And this is what moms do.

They let go.

 

And Weeeee’re Outta Here

Today’s “The Day”! We’re graduating from eighth grade for the last time!

Last kid out of middle school is a rotten egg!

Well, not really.

He’s the egg, the school’s where that faintly sulphuric scent is coming from.

Sometimes I randomly pause in the middle of my day and take a moment of silent thanks that in four more years, I’ll be quit of the public education system for good.

There were some years I thought, “You know, it’s not that bad”.

And then another ‘doozy‘ would surface.

The system is run by crazy people. They sit around in closed rooms and throw darts at phrases on the walls. Whatever they hit, they put into the system.

Much like the decision to have children, phrases like “Common Core” and “classroom size cap” and “lunchtime salad bar” were probably a good idea during the five minutes they were discussed.

No one took a moment to see how the ideas lined up as a whole. If they even made sense.

Riddle me this:

Is it or is it not counter-intuitive to have my teen read an award winning literature book filled with angst against society and ending in suicide…and also hold a suicide prevention assembly? They tell the kids to watch each other for signs of depression, and then make them all read books and watch videos that are, to put it mildly, totally depressing.

Have you ever worked as a lunch time monitor?

I always made my kids bring a sack lunch to school because at least I knew what they were eating. Or not eating. Sort of.

Dozens of children were receiving free lunches from a school system that provided a salad bar nicer than Home Town Buffet. Healthy free lunches! I would have loved my kids to partake.

But.

When you only get 25 minutes for lunch, and ten of them are spent in the lunch line, you have to choose between 15 minutes of play time or eating.

All those lovely lunches went into the trashcan.

I know, because I had to supervise it and ensure that none of the uneaten food got shared with classmates who actually wanted to sit down and eat.

It makes no sense.

The public school system attempts to give our children a well rounded education, trying to fill in the gaps that we negligent parents leave when we deliberately attempt to keep their education narrow.

Sex education comes to mind.

In case we shy awkward parents can’t seem to bumble through the difficult phrases of the Facts of Life, our school teachers will do it for us.

And let me tell you, even at kindergarten level, the Facts of Life are slowly becoming the Suggestions of Life.

But I just want to know…if you’re so sure, School Board, that my seventh grader is going to become sexually active immediately, and I as a parent am only able to stand helplessly by and wring my hands, is it possible that you have played a part in that occurring?

It’s a bit like having YouTube videos that walk you through the exact process of how to make a bomb. You know, in case a terrorist needs some help finding direction in his life.

There was, however, something that happened most triumphantly in a public school.

Had it been deliberate, I would give you kudos.

But you didn’t.

So.

No.

Sex Ed was finally taught correctly. Accidentally, but thoroughly.

Tune in on Tuesday, I’ll tell you all about it.

So You Want to Date My Kid

Dear Person Applying to Date One of my Teenagers,

Congratulations.

You’ve recently passed a pre-test that included your family background screening, personal financial philosophies, character quality check and views on personal space.

You obviously have amazing taste and a great deal of courage, therefore I am offering a trial period where we can all get to know each other better.

Because, of course, if you date one of us, you date the whole family.

I’m not much of a seamstress, but if you arrive for your date with sloppy clothing, I will gladly apply enough duct tape to ensure your pants don’t accidentally fall off during the evening.

Ladies, if you show up dressed in clothing four sizes too small, I totally understand. The economy is so bad, most young ladies can only afford a half of a wardrobe. I will loan you my Snuggie. Zip up!

When I ask you where you are going and with whom, you only get one chance to tell me the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

Don’t forget: I’m a mom.

I will find out.

Appropriate places for a date include old folks homes, ice skating rinks, hospitals, movies featuring chain saws and explosions, church services, daycare centers, and crowded stadiums.

Be afraid of the dark…very afraid.

When you are together in our home, please accept my complete responsibility for the siblings placed strategically in corners. They are well paid and have one job: maintenance of personal space.

We own an electronic two-foot-long sharpened meat thermometer. It has settings for chicken, beef, turkey, and boyfriend. If we test you and your temperature is too high, you will be “done”.

And we will take you out.

Make curfew by a solid ten minutes. If you’re not early, you’re late.

Do not dally in the car saying ‘Good night’. Exit the vehicle promptly upon arrival and keep both hands in clear view. Announce you have returned my child safely and early, and drive on.

There is no need to linger on the doorstep because I will join you, and after a group hug, will explain that it’s past my bedtime, slam the door in your face and turn out the light.

Our kid is not your ATM, your therapist, your decoration or your doormat.

Facebook, phone calls, tweets and texts will be monitored for quality assurance.

You are not in charge of her, I am.

You cannot change him. Believe me, I already tried.

Some day I will morph from world’s meanest mom into world’s best mother-in-law.

But this is not that day.

Family is forever, and most dates…are not.

Sincerely,

Mom